The two-tier tuition system approved by SMC’s governing board earlier this month seems to be on shaky legal grounds, according to Paul Feist, spokesperson for California Community Colleges chancellor, Jack Scott. Scott requested the state Attorney General’s Office to check the legitimacy of the SMC two-tiered tuition system last Thursday, according to scpr.org.
Feist has expressed his concern over the plan’s legality, according to the LA Times. Feist believes the plan may not comply with the education codes, as the state does not allow students to be charged differential fees for the types of courses SMC offers during summer and winter sessions.
“The chancellor’s office in the past has opined that the two-tiered fee structure is not permitted by education codes,” said Feist in an email sent to the Corsair. “The chancellor’s office is concerned about the effect such an arrangement would have on low-income students.”
Feist also noted that the chancellor’s office does not want SMC to go through with the plan, and is currently exploring a range of legal options.
Louise Jaffe, SMC Board of Trustees member who voted in favor of the plan, believes that the proposal is not only legal, but is the cheapest option students have to take classes they need at a community college that faces budget cuts.
“Students need classes!” said Jaffe. “Why else come to SMC? They need to move forward with their education, whether it’s transferring or getting an AA degree.” Jaffe further stated that the tragedy stems from the state’s inability to fulfill its responsibility to the people, the students, and the community.
Since 2008, SMC has cancelled more than 1,000 class sections, according to the SMC’s Public Information Office. In 2012, $11 million were cut off public higher education funding. If the November tax initiative proposed by Gov. Brown fails, community colleges risk another $5 million budget cut in 2012-13. Jaffe said that the state’s failure to appropriately subsidize public education for the past four years has compelled SMC to cut classes. Students have to opt for other options to get classes if they cannot afford to wait another semester.
According to Jaffe, the other options available for students are far more expensive
than the two-tier plan of $200 per unit. Students can currently take classes at UCLA extension or other private colleges which are at least $800 per unit, said Jaffe.
Jaffe also addressed students concern that this measure will become a permanent solution instead of a temporary measure. “That’s at the heart of the concern,” Jaffe said. “The state has already largely stopped its funding. Making California Community Colleges inaccessible to students won’t solve anything.”
Jaffe stated that international students are the reasons why SMC, unlike other community colleges, is still able to offer summer and winter sessions.
International students pay $275 per unit as opposed to the $46 per unit paid by in-state students. “We know that having students pay different fees will not be a problem because we are already doing it
now,” says Jaffe. As to whether the proposal is illegal,
Jaffe says that the education codes pertaining to the differential fee option is neither explicitly permissive nor explicitly forbidden.
The main problem is at a national and state level, not the SMC Board of Trustees, according to Jaffe. If the college does not receive the funding it should, the Trustees are not to blame.
“The real tragedy is that higher education in California has been cut so severely that access is being curtailed,” said Feist.
“California must come to terms with the consequences of this disinvestment, and support solutions that will allow all students to achieve their educational goals on time.”